Flowerland Friend: The Common Lacewing

Lacewings are an important part of a natural healthy garden. They are an organic means to extinguish aphids, mites and other garden pests. It is important to keep in mind the benefits of having insects in your yard and  garden before spraying and chemically treating for insects.

Lacewing larvae eat catepillers, scale and mealy bugs as well as many other garden pests.  Photo courtesy of Wiki.
Lacewing larvae eat catepillers, scale and mealy bugs as well as many other garden pests. Photo courtesy of Wiki.

Lacewings belong to the order Neuroptera. There are about 85 species of Lacewings in this group, and over 2,000 close relatives  including dobsonflies, ant-lions and alderflies.

Most adults survive on pollen, nectar and an occasional aphid. The real predators of this insect group are the Lacewing larvae aphis-lions (or aphid-lion/aphid-wolves). Adult females lay their eggs on long sticky thread because larvae are so indiscriminate about what they eat,  they would eat themselves into extinction. Once eggs are layed they take about 6-14 days to hatch.

Lacewing larvae or "aphid wolf" stalking prey.
Lacewing larvae or "aphid wolf" stalking prey.

Once hatched, Lacewing larvae grow very quickly, but growth is dependent on the food source available. After 10 days of feeding they cocoon themselves and emerge as an adult within two weeks.

Lacewing eggs are usually laid where excisting pests are feeding.
Lacewing eggs are usually laid where existing pests are feeding.

Larvae feed with the help of specialized mandibles. They have a mouth-part that is similar to a straw, and once clamped onto its prey can suck the insect dry in less than a minute. This leaves only the shell of the aphid exoskeleton. The larvae may wear and arrange the exoskeletons for cover (which makes it a part of a group of insects called “trash collectors”). An average larvae can eat up to 100 aphids in its cycle.

Debis from eaten aphids and insects are collected on the back of the larvae for protection. Photo by Susan McCann.
Debris from eaten aphids and insects are collected on the back of the larvae for protection. Photo by Susan McCann.

Lacewing adults have quite beautiful wings, and pale green-brown bodies depending on the species. They are most active at night and can usually be found circling porch lights. Their main goal as a adult is reproduction during their 4-6 week adult stage.

Lacewings are arguably the most beneficial of all garden insects. They kill all life stages of pests, including the eggs, making them important in prevention as well.  Remember to look for the Lacewing and “aphid-wolf” in your garden!

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